'Glowing' Turtle: Biofluorescent Reptile Spotted Off Solomon Islands (VIDEO)

First Posted: Sep 29, 2015 11:05 AM EDT

A hawksbill sea turtle in the Solomon Islands is being hailed as the world's first documented reptile to display a glow via biofluorescence.

Biofluorescence is the ability to reflect blue light that it hitting a surface, and then re-emit it as a different color - most commonly, green, red, and orange. It is different from bioluminescence, which is the production of light through a series of chemical reactions, or host bacteria that glow.

David Gruber, a marine biologist from City University, exploring the Solomon Islands, spotted the turtle while exploring the islands, according to Discovery News.

Gruber was in the Islands in late July to film biofluorescence in coral reefs and smaller sharks. However, one night during a dive, Gruber's team was on watch for crocodiles that often peruse the area, "and there came out of nowhere this fluorescent turtle," says Gruber, according to National Geographic.

He said that the turtle "looked like a big spaceship gliding into view." He compared it to a sort of "alien craft with a patchwork of neon green and red all over its head and body."

The marine biologist caught the turtle on a video camera system with only a blue light - that matched the blue light of the surrounding ocean - for its artificial lighting. A yellow filter on the camera allowed the scientists to pick up fluorescing organisms, according to National Geographic.

Gruber followed the Hawksbill for a time, before letting it go on its way. "After a few moments I let it go because I didn't want to harass it," he said.

It's still unclear how biofluorescence aids this particular turtle just yet. However, usually this characteristic have to do with communication, hunting, or camouflage, according to Gruber.

Hawksbill sea turtles are critically endangered, with populations that have declined about 80 percent in the past decade, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "red list" of endangered speciesThis makes them incredibly difficult to study.

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